Saturday, November 28, 2009

Hard, but Amazing Grace

“I will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when terror strikes you,...”
(Pr. 1:26)

“..., if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
(2 Cor. 5:17)

I have hesitated to write this post for a while: It’s part of a series from Proverbs on “The Simple”. (The previous posts in the series have been “The Turning Away of the Simple”, “The Seed of the Serpent”, and “Knowing God”.) Taken together, they make the point that the situation of the young, with their characteristic “simplicity” is a very dangerous one, which is depressing enough. But the news in Proverbs 1 gets even worse, as Wisdom warns the Simple:

“Will you turn away at my reproof?
Behold, I would make my words known to you.
Because I have called and you refused to listen,
I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when terror strikes you,
Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
and have their fill of their own devices.
For the simple are killed by their turning away,....”
(Pr. 1:23-33)

Anyone who has read much of Scripture knows that it contains threats, but this passage goes beyond that. It might be called “a dark promise”! It’s not an easy subject.

What are we to say then to those (and especially the young in the church, with all the opportunities they have had) who have refused to listen, and have brought all sorts of misery on themselves, and now turn again to the Lord? It seems to me that this passage definitely tells us what we are NOT to say: We’re not to tell them that a trip to the nearest Christian bookstore will give them the tools they need to put it all right, so that they can live happy lives, as though their falling away had never happened. If they have married an unbeliever and now have a house full of unbelieving and half-wild children, we’re not to tell them that putting a plaque on the wall with the last sentence from Joshua 24:15 on it, and decreeing an in-house “reformation” will make it all better. The possible examples to follow that one could occupy many pages.

So what are we to say? The accompanying picture is supposed to be a hint: Consider the life of John Newton: His father hoped to set John onto a successful path as a businessman and ship’s captain, but John’s stupidity (and the word seems fair, even though, in a sense he was intelligent enough) managed to blow those hopes to smithereens. As the title of Grace Irwin’s biographical novel indicates, he sank pretty low indeed. Then, while traveling back to England, in the midst of a storm that terrified him, he finally turned to God. But he subsequently claimed that his true conversion did not occur until later, when he was sick with a fever.

Whenever his true conversion occurred, the point here is that it did not result in “everything being made well”: He didn’t suddenly find himself as the man his father had hoped he would be. Instead, he found himself as a brand new man, a “new creation”.

If we take this example to heart, I think we’ll be a lot wiser when we’re called upon to minister to those who come to us with broken lives: We do them no favors if we tell them God is now going to put that life they’ve broken back together again, just as if they’d never broken it. Instead, we should encourage them to prayerfully look to Him for the new life that He has prepared for them, and prepare them to be realistic about it. To go back to the example of those who have married outside the church, the new life may involve a lifetime of witness to their family, and they may go home to be with Him without ever having seen the fruit of that witness, but simply trusting Him to honor it.